Faces of Indy: Making ‘Fun’ a Business Climate Priority

Indianapolis is on a roll. Glassdoor.com just placed Indy #2 on its ‘Best Cities for Jobs 2017’ list, far ahead of Midwestern peers based on hiring opportunities, cost of living and job satisfaction ratings on the popular job search engine. This adds to a growing list of impressive rankings for the region’s tech sector and broader ‘advanced industry’ economy.

But there plenty of numbers that aren’t traditional economic indicators but have a lot to do with growth potential: How many new restaurants are opening alongside old favorites and neighborhood hangouts? How crowded is the typical weekend calendar with cool events and cultural happenings? Where do Indy’s Millennial workforce live, shop, volunteer and play?

These are the issues that occupy Brittany Smith, the Midwest Associate Regional Director for Yelp, the local extension of the ubiquitous website and app that helps customers find and provide feedback about restaurants, retailers and other businesses in their areas.

“I live and breathe all that is Indy and all that is local – and every day is an adventure,” she says.

More simply, Smith likes to say she’s in the business of “fun.” And while fun hasn’t typically been thought of in the same breath as business climate, it’s an increasingly important factor in today’s talent-driven economy.


Picking Places to Live and Work

If economic development was like a Yelp review, a city like Indianapolis couldn’t earn five stars from growing employers without a strong workforce – particularly a supply of young, educated workers with sought-after skills in science, technology, engineering and math.

A recent New York Times feature (“How Indianapolis, Long Known as a Manufacturing Center, is Luring Tech Talent”) highlights how the city’s unique mix of affordability – particularly comparing housing costs to coastal tech hubs – livable neighborhoods and unexpected arts and dining scene are helping companies like Salesforce and Infosys (two of Marion County’s biggest recent expansion deals) recruit and retain employees.

“The Millennial workforce is drawn to great places to live and work, and dynamic cities are winning the competition for talent,” explained Ian Nicolini, CEO of Develop Indy and Vice-President of the Indy Chamber. “There’s a reason almost 75% of all college graduates in the U.S. live in the hundred largest urban areas – they want plenty of career options along with options on housing, schools, and things to do.

“That’s why Indy’s high-tech economy is booming,” he continued. “We have so much to offer to people and employers alike – a great quality of life and a competitive business climate.”

And when it comes to quality of life, Brittany Smith is one of Indy’s most enthusiastic ambassadors.


Union City native turned Circle City booster

Smith came to Indianapolis from Union City in eastern Indiana by way of Huntington University; she transferred to Butler University with an eye towards career options and fell in love with life in the state’s biggest city.

“I wanted more internship opportunities and knew Indianapolis was where I wanted to be,” she explained.

Studying communications at Butler and living off-campus on Mass Ave – then growing into one of the city’s most vibrant areas – she found the perfect internship at Downtown Indy, the events and hospitality organization serving the ‘Mile Square’ downtown district. After graduating, she leveraged this experience and passion for Indianapolis into a full-time job with the group.

“My job was to market downtown as a leisure destination to visitors while getting locals excited too,” Smith said, noting that her tenure with Downtown Indy coincided with the city’s preparation for an execution of the 2012 Super Bowl. She learned the players and gained first-hand experience behind the scenes of the city’s booming hospitality industry as Indianapolis once again wowed a global audience for the NFL’s biggest game.

When she accepted the role of Community Manager for Yelp in Indianapolis, Smith saw the chance to help build a community where people can find great service and cool experiences while exploring Indianapolis. From there, she was promoted to Yelp's Midwest Associate Regional Director.

“Obviously Yelp provides a resource and forum for consumers, but a large part of my job is educating businesses about our platform and the tools we offer,” she noted. “Businesses that embrace Yelp evolve and improve by being closer to their customers…we make those connections happen.”

An Insider’s Insights

Smith has a front-row seat for exciting developments in neighborhoods across Indianapolis, the sense of dynamism that’s drawing more young educated professionals (and business investment) to the city.

“I’m excited to see the Hoosier palate broadening,” she said, noting the diversity of dining options in areas like the International Marketplace on the city’s northwest side reflecting the growing diversity of our community. “People may not realize we have over a dozen Vietnamese restaurants reviewed in Indianapolis, for example – we dedicated a whole month to diving deeper with Vietnamese cuisine and culture with our ‘Phobruary’ event series this year.”

The role of restaurants and recreational opportunities in neighborhood redevelopment is also clear: “I’m excited about the 16th Street corridor,” Smith added. “With the second [local craft distillery] Hotel Tango opening and the success of Tinker Street and Festiva [both by legendary Indy restaurateur Peter George], there’s a lot of energy there.”

Neighborhoods like Herron-Morton Place along 16th Street are joining a growing expanse of bustling districts in and around downtown meeting the demand for walkable living among the workers driving Indy’s high-tech hot streak and other employers thriving in the urban core. This influx supports a food scene that gets rave reviews nationally, covering places typically well-documented by Smith and her cadres of Yelp-ers.

Opportunities for Impact

Smith is a champion for the cultural and culinary assets that are helping Indy emerge as a prime destination for talent. She’s also part of the younger generation of creative visionaries pushing Indianapolis to raise its game to recruit new residents and keep the locals engaged with new adventures and experiences. For the ‘new guard’ of civic leaders, Indianapolis isn’t just a great place to live – it’s a place where ideas come to life.

“I came to Indianapolis knowing absolutely no one,” Smith finished. “But people here are willing to connect and help open doors. I started with Yelp when I was 23, and started throwing ideas around – and people at the top listened and are open.”

Brittany Smith’s job may be uniquely “fun,” but her experience is relevant to any young person looking for a hometown: Indianapolis offers great careers, quality of life, and a challenge to get involved and make your mark.

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